(Psagot Winery)
Psagot Winery

Labels describing Psagot wine as “Product of Israel” violate Canadian consumer protection laws unless they include qualifying language.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency ruled on Friday that wines produced in Psagot and Shiloh, in Judea and Samaria, cannot be advertised as “products of Israel” without a qualifying language about their legal status as settlements.

Supporters of Israel and BDS both saw reasons in the ruling to claim success.

After consulting with Global Affairs Canada, which oversees the North American country’s foreign relations, the food regulator wrote that “Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967 (this includes the West Bank) and that the West Bank is a territory outside of the internationally recognized boundaries of the State of Israel.”

The CFIA added that although the wineries are located in an area administered by Israel, Canada “considers that there is no recognized country where the two wines in question were produced.”

As a result, labels describing the wines as “products of Israel” violate Canadian consumer protection laws unless they also include qualifying language.

However, the next step is not clear. The CFIA also ruled that it does not have a mandate to suggest a qualifying language, nor did it shed light on the parameters of what would need to be expressed. The Canadian Press reported that the agency intends to hold a consultation later this year with the “relevant parties.”

The wineries also have the option to appeal the ruling through judicial review, a legal process that could potentially last several years. But judging from the reaction of Psagot’s legal team, that does not appear likely.

A Half-Empty or Half-Full Ruling?

The case began in 2017, when Dr. David Kattenburg, a former university science instructor in Winnipeg, filed a complaint with the CFIA, claiming that the wines were produced in illegal Israeli settlements and should not be allowed to advertise themselves as “products of Israel.”

Kattenburg, who is Jewish and has since moved to the Netherlands, also said in legal submissions to the court that the Psagot winery was located on land that he claimed was stolen from its Palestinian owners.

The CFIA initially ruled in Kattenburg’s favor, but reversed itself when Global Affairs Canada notified the food regulator that Judea and Samaria were included in Canada’s free trade agreement with Israel. But a federal judge ruled in 2019 that settlements were not part of the State of Israel and that the label was “inaccurate and misleading.”

The Lawfare Project, which represented Psagot, praised the decision.

“The CFIA’s ruling is markedly different from the widely criticized 2019 decision issued by the Court of Justice of the European Union on Psâgot labels, which banned the ‘Product of Israel’ designation,” the organization said in a statement.

“We are pleased that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has permitted our client to keep the ‘Product of Israel’ label on its wines along with clarifying information, rather than following the utterly misguided European decision to ban the ‘Israel’ label altogether. Psâgot Winery will have no trouble adding context to its labels.”

The statement also quoted Professor Eugene Kontorovich a legal scholar who teaches international law at George Mason University.

“While the CFIA’s decision is not perfectly reasoned, the result puts Canada in line with almost all the nations of the world, which allow the ‘Product of Israel’ label for such goods,” Kontorovich said. “The CFIA categorically rejected the European Union’s unique and disparaging labeling requirements, showing that the EU’s influence is less than they imagine.”

However, BDS activists also claimed the ruling as a victory.

Following the CFIA ruling, Kattenburg tweeted, “Know of any foods or beverages made in Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements and sold in Canada with ‘Product of Israel’ labels? Please file complaint with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.” The tweet included a link to the CFIA’s complaints form.

Kattenburg and his lawyer, Dimitri Lascaris, wrote on the attorney’s blog that they were pleased that the CFIA’s original 2017 ruling was reinstated.

“In our view, because these products are the fruits of war crimes, they should not even be allowed into Canada, but if they are to be sold in Canada, their labels must disclose explicitly that they were produced in an Israeli settlement that is situated on “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Such a label would be consistent with a 2019 decision of the European Court of Justice relating to wines sold in Europe by Psagot Winery’s European affiliate.”

They also hinted that the next battle will be over how to precisely word the qualifying language.

“At the end of the day, the phrase ‘territory administered by Israel’ is grossly inadequate,” Kattenburg and Lascaris wrote.

“Furthermore, wine labeling must be regionally consistent. Recently, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario ruled that Palestinian wines produced in the Israeli-occupied West Bank must be labeled ‘Product of West Bank,” rather than ‘Product of Palestine’. For consistency, so must wines produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. ‘Product of West Bank (Palestinian)’ and ‘Product of West Bank (Israeli settlement)’ would be regionally consistent and fully accurate.”

The Psagot Winery, located in the Sha’ar Binyamin Industrial Zone, near Jerusalem, was founded in 2003. According to its website, the winery produces 750,000 bottles of wine every year, the majority of which are exported to 27 different countries.

The Shiloh Winery, located in the Shiloh Industrial Zone, was founded in 2005.

There are 150 territorial disputes across the world, yet the CFIA ruling only applies to Jewish products from Judea and Samaria.

In April, Palestinian activists were angered to learn the Psagot wine was served at the White House‘s “model Passover seder” ahead of the holiday. The wine appeared in a photo posted on social media by Vice President Kamala Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff.